It never occurred to me that a city could, quite literally, run off of oil. Of course, all major cities consume energy, but Houston, as the hub of the U.S. oil and gas industry, stands apart. My boyfriend Dan is just as cynical toward this mountain-less, adventure-desolate city as he is optimistic about nearly anything else. He instilled a premature prejudice against Houston in me because he dislikes it so much. Forty feet above sea level, the greatest “elevation” gains are fifty-foot overpasses crossing over massive freeways or an elevator to the 75th floor of the JP Morgan Chase Tower.
There are not many outdoor outlets, and from Dan’s perspective, that means no fun…just a flat, unendurably hot metropolis full of corporate men enslaved to the grinder city life. Their high salaries and enticing retirement plans have skewed their priorities and enchained most of them to “golden handcuffs.” With a serious face and a silly tone, he once told me the only purpose of this place is to poop out lots of money, and it does so well. Everything here — investment, trading, attorneys, entertainment, nonprofit fundraising — it is all irrevocably intertwined with the oil refineries just off the coast. They are the heart, pumping natural gas through sturdy pipelines, the city’s own artificial veins.
Houston is gargantuan, both in geographic distance and population. It is so large that the word “sprawl” actually originated from its overflowing suburbs, and so massive that it is roughly the same size as the entire island of Oahu, Hawaii. 2.2 million people live here, the most racially diverse and fourth-largest city in the country. Between the square mileage and residents of Houston, traffic is a perpetual nightmare. I have finally mastered driving to the office and Dan’s without Google Maps, but I would be hopelessly lost on the roads without the blessings of real-time GPS satellites. Even with Siri kindly directing me, I am so overwhelmed on these freeways that I still regularly miss my exits. Thank goodness for those easily-accessible service and U-turn roads. One should expect to double commute time and anticipate a bumper-to-bumper crawl on six-lane interstates during rush hour. Accident clean ups are so ordinary others are more concerned about getting through it and on their way than the safety of those just hit.
Despite the low prices at the pump, industries and Fortune 500 companies continue to attract young, bright professionals, allured here by the promise of making more money than they know how to spend. Most of them, however, learn quickly. Though the 5K loop at Memorial Park is about as close as H-Town comes to pleasing outdoor enthusiasts, it is a culinary mecca for foodies and drink connoisseurs. Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other city; streets brim with high-end restaurants and sleek, modern bars.*
Just over a month ago, I moved to this oil metropolis, a place I had only visited a few times before.
I don’t deny it – I am here for the sole purpose of being in the same place as my boyfriend. Let’s preface this whole discussion with the caveat that I never, ever thought I would be “that girl” – the one who bases any big decision on a man. 18 months ago I would have laughed if you told me I would be following a boyfriend anywhere; there were no potential prospects to even refer to with such a title. I — independent, single Jessica Compton — would not-so-subtly roll my eyes and scoff with disgust at the idea of making any life choice based on a dude. That, I’m sure I would say, is lame and desperate.
Yet here I am. On August 8, I road tripped with my sweet Mama over 1,000 miles from Charleston to Houston and did just that: followed my boyfriend to a city, knowing little more than that it was “really big.” But, as I have written before, this is no schmo-Joe guy. This is Dan Telsey, D-Boy, Dan the Man — Dan my man. (The novelty of saying that still hasn’t worn off, and I don’t expect it will anytime soon.)
Whether it is through his witty sarcasm or goober of a personality, he is the only one who has me in a constant fit of giggles, and his girth of stories and facts keeps conversations interesting. He mastered the art of pushing my (…sundry) buttons early on, but he does so minimally and wisely. His sensitivity allows him to care for me and many others deeply. He believes in the transformative power of the Gospel, he is always ready for an adventure, and his voracious appetite for travel consumed most of his vacation days by March. Most weekends, he is more likely to have boarded an airplane and cleared out of Houston than to have stayed put.
Growing up, my mom wisely advised my siblings and me to look for a significant other who “sees the best in you, brings out the best in you, and wants the best for you.” Dan does that — he sees the good in me yet spurs me on to the next best version of myself. About one month into dating, I caught him unawares when I assertively proposed the idea of moving to Houston after graduation. Though any big decision nearly paralyzes Dan, after a few days of contemplation, he had the backbone and gumption to welcome me. I plan on attending graduate school in New Zealand beginning in January, and we decided it would be wise to live in the same place prior to that jump across the globe. Neither of us wanted to end up in a two-year long-distance relationship and discover that we did not, as it turned out, want to marry each other after all.
So the majority of my senior year, assuming we were still dating come August, that was my game plan.
“We’ll take it month by month,” I said once as we talked on the phone last fall.
“Month by month? How about by weeks or days!?” he retorted.
We do operate on different wave lengths – I jump the gun, he trails reluctantly behind; we are both learning lessons from each other in patience and decisiveness. Yet here we are, 11 month-by-months later and still together. After nine official months of long-distance dating, it is a pleasure to replace a video call with the real person.
Unlike Dan, I am not averse to Houston, but I have not developed any particular attachment to it either. It’s the myriad golden moments that are making these months in H-Town enjoyable.
Backpack strapped and luggage packed, I readied myself to get in the car, bound for my return flight to Houston from the Philly airport. Days after my move, I flew out to attend a packed wedding weekend celebrating the marriage of Dan’s brother, Max, and his bride Christine.
It was now Sunday, and I was about to step off the exhausting “Telsey Treadmill of Fun.” I gave Dan a squeeze and pecked him on the lips. I had grown accustomed to the inevitable goodbye at the conclusion of our marathon weekends together, but for the first time, my heart wasn’t aching with dread.
“Whelp, I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said, and smiled.
He returned the smile and nodded. “Yes, you will indeed.”
Uttering those words was deeply satisfying. Good riddance long distance. For now, anyway.
It is always the lack of something seemingly banal that makes you value it more: the lights when they are low, the sun when it snows (thanks Passenger). Long distance makes me grateful for the simplicity of togetherness. Weekend visits used to be time bombs, and I did not want to waste any moments together without intentional conversation. I am not very comfortable with silence and have not yet fully transitioned out of that mindset, but the pressure is finally off.
We sit together on the couch indian style, computers in our laps. We are both sucked into individual tasks on our laptops. But I am distracted with my own thoughts.
What should I ask him? How can I get to know him better? I need to utilize our time!
But wait. Do I? We are in the same space, and he is not going anywhere. There is no pressing need to speak. Just be.
I let out a contented sigh and keep working. This is normalcy. These moments constitute the majority of one’s life. This is “boring,” unworthy of social media’s portrayal of life awesomeness. We are both here; our knees touch and the silence sits. I suppose this is “hanging out” in its most unexciting form. But the togetherness is enough, a simple thing I do not take for granted.
It is a small sample for what “normal” dating in the same place is like. Other normalcy now includes cooking dinner, attending church together and growing spiritually in the same Bible study, and the convenience of spontaneous rendezvous. Projects at Exxon have just been piled on which will mean less time together. But we’re both still here! We’re in Houston, and I like it that way. When I think about being separated again come January, my chest already starts to squeeze up. Though that time will come, it is still months away, and I choose to live presently. Dan and I are in the same place right now, so I will appreciate that gift while I have it.
Though Dan will always rag on Houston, I am very happy to call this my temporary home. It is not the city itself, but the people and positive experiences I have had over the last six weeks that make me treasure this special season in H-Town.
|August 8, 2015
Ready for the road trip!
|Exploring corners of Houston
|…and finding pockets of nature outside of the city when I’m off.
Brazos Bend State Park
Though our typical weekend jaunts continue,
|Philadelphia – Max & Christine’s Wedding
|Aspen, CO – Maroon Bells 4 Pass Loop Labor Day Weekend
at least our arrival and departure destinations are the same now.
Houston! Hooray for the same place!!!
Dan is only a third of my very fulfilling post-grad life in Houston, but time continues to speed by (it’s the end of September?!), and I was getting too overwhelmed to write about all of it. Up next: Boosterific and Roomiez!